Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Knowledge Management is less about harvesting and more about connecting

I spoke to several people executives about knowledge management recently. They all have major concerns about a significant portion of their workforce leaving their company and taking away critical undocumented or tribal knowledge with them.

They were not talking just about the creative classes such as scientists, engineers, designers and artists. This applies to all kinds of workers including employees of utility companies, manufacturing companies, mining companies and energy companies. Suddenly companies are realizing that everyone is a knowledge worker. All these workers create significant know-how and have a lot to share.

Companies typically take two approaches when they attempt to solve this problem.
Some companies want to harvest all this tribal knowledge and store it somewhere for access by new employees later. But the point is that new employees need to know the right questions to ask before they can make sense out of any harvested knowledge, even if such harvest is possible. Sometimes knowing the answer does not help, if you do not know the question.

Certain other companies take a different approach. Instead of harvesting all the knowledge and storing it in some place, they keep in touch with their alumni via technology so that they can contact them when required. Alumni are willing and glad to provide their knowledge, when required, for their former employers. 

The second approach is efficient and practical. Companies should invest money in technology that connects people, enable them to improve their knowledge and when required get the services of such employees for a fair fee. This is the sustainable approach.

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